It’s one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world but what do you need to know before you start putting one foot in front of the other?
The sports companies make it look easy: Just get your gear on and head out to the open road. It’s running, it’s easy and anyone can do it – but it’s not as simple as that, is it?
You’ve probably seen runners out and about in Abu Dhabi and pictured yourself in their shoes, braving the sun and working up a sweat, jealous of how easy they make it look.
So, how do you actually start running, safely, and turn it into a regular exercise that you’ll enjoy?
Making a start
If you’ve ever tried to start running, having never done so before, you probably had the same experience as many people in this position: The first few minutes you feel full of beans, before your energy drains entirely, your legs become heavy, your mouth dries up – so what went wrong?
Like with any other hobby or sport, you won’t turn into an expert runner overnight; it takes time, practice and dedication.
“Starting a new running habit can be hard, but it will help if you set your initial goals realistically,” says Kevin Rosbotham, organiser of community running group, Abu Dhabi Striders.
“Don’t try to run six days a week if you have hardly run before. Create yourself a simple schedule and stick to it.
“In the beginning, all you need is to get yourself some good well-fitted training shoes and some comfortable running clothes, and you’re off to a good start.”
Once you have the gear and are ready to start running, how far should you go? Do you sprint at top speed and aim for a personal best or take it easy and build up over time?
“Start with walking, brisk walking, then a light jog, working your way up,” advises Kevin. “If you’ve gone stiff or sore at the end of the run, then you’ve done something wrong – maybe your route is too long, or you’ve pushed yourself too hard and burnt out. This is not a good way to go about exercise, and won’t work in the long run; you’ll get injured.
“If you are not regularly exercising and want to start running, you should start by brisk-paced walking three or four days a week, for two or three weeks, to get your muscles and bones used to moving with the same general range of motion as running,” Kevin suggests.
“When you are comfortable with walking, start introducing the running slowly.
“Run one minute, walk one minute – this is a good start. Gradually increase the run time over two to three weeks until you feel comfortable running continuously for a longer period of time.”
We all want to be good at everything we turn our hand to, and with fitness it’s no different. You might set your sights on signing up for a 5km run or even a marathon, but if you don’t go about training in the right way, you’ll end up on the sidelines recovering from injury instead of on the track racking up the kilometres.
“It’s hard, but slow and steady is definitely the way forward,” adds Kevin. “Build your running distance slowly to avoid fatigue and injury. No matter how impatient or frustrated you might feel, you have to be realistic.
“People often find themselves trying to run too often, too far, too quickly. Build your base slowly, and only look beyond your base to increase your distance and speed once your base has become comfortable. That’s how you get better – it takes time and dedication.”
Creating a habit
Becoming a runner might be your long-term goal but that doesn’t mean that all your training needs to be focussed on running.
Varying your workout and living a more active life overall will help you develop the muscles to become a better runner, increase endurance and improve your general fitness.
“Runners who are serious about making it a long-term interest should diversify their workout. There are many benefits of doing this, including injury prevention,” Kevin says.
“To maintain a good level of fitness, a runners’ workout should include core and strength training on a regular basis, once or twice per week. This enhances the muscles that you don’t even know that you are using while running, and will make your overall technique much stronger.
“You should also include other forms of aerobic training in your ‘down’ days: Swimming and cycling are perfect as they are aerobically challenging, but have low impact on joints and muscles.”
While you’re building up your fitness slowly over time, getting out and about in Abu Dhabi to practise can be a blessing with so many places to go and stretch your legs.
But, as with all sports, you need to be aware of your surroundings, keep yourself safe and plan ahead to make sure that you’re running in the ideal location to achieve your goals.
“The beauty of running is that you can do it anywhere,” explains Kevin. “Park grass is a nice soft surface for running on and can help reduce the muscle fatigue that you will experience when starting running.
“The Corniche is another good traffic-free footpath for straight line running and there are plenty of other like-minded individuals there too. Then there’s Yas Marina Circuit, which is also a nice safe environment to run with the company of others. Just find somewhere that you’re comfortable and make it a routine that you can enjoy.”
Safety in numbers
Oftentimes with exercise, it’s better to have a group or partner to keep you going so you’ll make fewer excuses to dodge workouts.
When taking on something alone, it’s easy to miss a day here and there or even give up altogether when the going gets tough.
While some people can manage on their own, it can never hurt to be part of a community or rely on a workout buddy to help keep you motivated and active, especially when your motivation starts to wane.
“Some runners like to run alone and some prefer, or need, the company of others for motivation,” notes Kevin.
“Before I came to Abu Dhabi, I would be happy to run on my own or with the company of others, but this was in a much cooler climate.
“The weather in Abu Dhabi can be a bit demotivating to run, especially in summer, so getting a committed group of friends to run with can give the extra motivation you need to get out.”
If you can’t convince any friends to take up running with you then there are a number of running groups in the city that will happily welcome you to their community to get active together. Groups such as Abu Dhabi Striders, House of Runners and Abu Dhabi Island Hashers are great options, while neighbourhoods such as Al Reem Island are home to their own running clubs.
WORDS Colin Armstrong